blogging, books

Bookdragon New Year’s Resolutions (Guaranteed Not to Fail!)

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As long as you follow these instructions.

Don’t blame me if you stray from the path.

Common Resolution 1: Tackling that TBR.

Step 1: Don’t add anything new to your TBR until December 2019.

Step 2: Spend the next 11 months reading books you already own, have requested from the library, or as ARCs.

See how easy that was? Your wallet, your shelves, and your family will thank you.

Acceptable rule-breakers: You find out about a 2019 new release from a favorite author that you didn’t know existed; a friend lends you a book you’d feel guilty holding onto for an entire year; the book club you’re in features a title you don’t currently have or had even intended to go near.

Common Resolution 2: Review books in a polite amount of time.

Step 1: Set a deadline for when you need to have certain titles read by.

Step 2: Read said titles.

Step 3: Write said reviews and post them or schedule posting in advance.

Hints on how to make this stick: Don’t request more than one ARC a month; don’t tell more than one person a month you’ll write a review; don’t commit to reviewing *every* *single* *book* you finish. And always, ALWAYS, refer back to the Ultimate Rule on how to control your TBR.

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Common Resolution 3: Complete your WIP and get it on Wattpad/sent to an agent/self-published

Step 1: Type these words into your 62,845K word total manuscript: THE END.

Step 2: Find beta readers you trust to give tactful but beneficial feedback.

Step 3: Engage an editor or Critique Partner (CP) you trust to put said feedback into action.

Step 4: Do the dang editing. Don’t procrastinate. DON’T STRAY FROM THE PATH, YOUNG PADAWAN.

Step 5: Post on Wattpad. Send to agents. Or upload to a self-publishing website and press Enter.

Okay, this one I’m oversimplfying, I know. But, seriously, all you aspiring writers out there, GO FOR IT! The worst that will happen is that you determine this venture didn’t pan out. But publishing or becoming published is the ultimate Shroedinger’s Cat: You will absolutely never know what would have been if you don’t try.

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Less common resolutions include: Spending less time on social media, reading less hyped books, trying more new authors, and branching out into other genres.

My suggestions for all of these are so simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself: Do them.

In all seriousness, though, I really hate to see what the competitive nature of book blogging has done to bookworms who just love to read. Not that I think we should do away with book blogging or anything that extreme — I owe SO much to my beta readers and reviewers and social media followers. But I truly believe that our biggest, and most acted on, resolution this year should be to go back to a love of the written word as the primary reason for doing all of this. It literally DOESN’T MATTER how many books we read in one year, how many ARCs we got approved for, how many reviews we posted, or how all of that compares to other bloggers. We’d do quite well to realize that.

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Autism, books

The Ongoing Need for Proper Autism Representation in Fiction

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I started thinking about this topic (again) recently. Whenever I search for “autism representation in fiction,” a title that always comes up is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Now, I hate this book. I read it about 6 or 7 years ago, after hearing that it featured an autistic/Asperger’s narrator. And it does. But I really, really wish it didn’t.

What’s so wrong with Curious Incident? Well, in short, it’s offensive as hell. The premise is that a neurodivergent boy (apparently a savant, who has intense skills in some academic subjects but little to no comprehension of human behavior and the world around him) discovers his neighbor’s evidently murdered dog (lovely) and he sets out to uncover whodunit. There are about a million things wrong with this premise.

  • It’s highly unlikely that someone with such impaired functioning would be capable of the level of deduction required to solve this sort of puzzle
  • Not very probable that he would care so much, since it wasn’t even his dog (and it is not that he doesn’t have emotions; he’d feel sad about the dog, but genuinely not see how this affected him in any way)
  • Considering the narrator is presented as having intense anxiety, the very notion of him going into crowded, noisy, busy downtown London by himself  — which does happen in the plot — to resolve the mystery is downright laughable

Along the way, the narrator continually talks down about and to neurotypical people, gets mistreated by the police, the neighbors, his family, pretty much the whole human race, and acts as if he’s somehow superior to the general public because he’s different. None of this is helpful towards teaching the NT population about autism — because it’s blatantly wrong.

This portrayal of neurodivergence makes autists look like androids, unable to process emotion or give a damn about other people, always focused on our own wants and the rest of the world can take a hike; that we’re hateful of everything we don’t understand; prone to condemnation and violence; just plain irritating to our families; and worthy of pity. That’s why I hate, hate, hate this book.

And it really rankles me when professionals in education, social services, and medicine see it as an excellent demonstration of how someone from “the other side” operates. They think this because they don’t truly know what we feel and how we take in information, how our daily environment affects us, or that we’re NOT robots playing at being human — we ARE humans who simply process this world differently than they do. And why don’t they know this? Simple: They don’t take the time to ask us.

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I’ve almost gotten into shouting matches with people who insist that autism is a “disease” or an “affliction,” and refuse to listen to another’s point of view — even of someone who has the condition.

But this is exactly why it’s so important that I march to my soapbox and raise my megaphone — because this is what too many people think autism to be. A disease, a problem that requires fixing. We need to get out there and yell from the rooftops the truth.

Now, while we’re on the subject, do I feel that the character of Christopher Boone himself in Curious Incident is completely unsympathetic? No, actually, I don’t. There were some things about this fictional autistic narrator that did ring true — his anxiety, his struggle to read faces, his greater attachment to animals than to people, his preference for math and puzzles — logical, tangible things rather than inconcrete emotions or shifting opinions that can’t be scientifically quantified. Most of these traits can be found in many spectrum folks. (Not me, because math and I do not get along.) But this is where the responsibility for writing such a novel correctly falls back on the author, Mark Haddon. Haddon has admitted he really doesn’t know much about autism, and this would be why Christopher’s symptoms read like a medical text.

And I’m not the only Actually Autistic who concurs this story displays negative, harmful stereotypes, and should not be referred to as a great example of ASD in fiction. (Scathing reviews can be found on Goodreads.)

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Since so many of us are lacking a good rep of ourselves in books and movies, what should be done about it?

Well, I stand by my crusade for a flood of Own Voices novels or nonfiction memoirs written by Actually Autistics to enter the market. I also think that most of these should be self-published or small press, to reduce the chances of a big name company jumping on the “it’s cool to be autism aware” bandwagon. (How do we think Curious Incident soared to the top of the bestseller list to begin with?) Maintaining the integrity of our mission needs to stay paramount in the eyes of editors and agents — not dollar signs. (See, we understand “normal” people just fine.)

I also think that too much editing would hinder the goal; trying to “water down” our autism and make our experiences and perceptions “more relatable” to the general public would defeat the point. They already don’t relate to us — the idea is to increase their knowledge, not cater to their misconceptions.

And we need more variety — a spectrum means a range of conditions based on a similar foundation. There’s a saying that “if you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person.”

In my own fantasy series, I made both the characters with autism female (neurodivergent females are already very underused in fiction, and there are bunches of us in the real world). Madison Collins is in a lot of ways me as an adolescent; Avery McKinnon is, for many intents and purposes, me as an adult. They have some commonalities, but remain separate individuals, who have different ambitions and goals, and view their autism differently, too. Since I released my debut novel last year, I’ve received rave reviews for these characters — from those who have relatives or close friends on the spectrum, as well as from those who don’t.

We also need to increase the number of fictional families who don’t consider their ASD children “broken” or “damaged goods.” Since this mindset is (horrifingly) so prevalent in our society, this could take time to change. But if we don’t start, will we ever get there?

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We struggle our entire lives to be accepted as ourselves. Facing further obstacles due to autism now being a buzzword in the media only complicates things. Expanded autism awareness has not resulted in greater autism understanding or inclusion.

The notion of us being a curiosity of behavior needs to be dropped. We are the modern equivalent of the circus freak — stared at, snickered about, even feared. I don’t want us becoming a joke, or a cliche. I really want people to realize that we are not the punchline — that we’re just as valuable as everybody without autism.

Will it happen in my lifetime? Perhaps? But I’m also releasing 2 spectrum children into the world one day — and I sincerely hope they won’t have to struggle the same way I did.

So, it starts with us. It starts now.

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books, community

A Question of Ethics?

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I’m having a bit of a crisis here. In the last few months, I’ve heard numerous reports about Amazon.com and the corporate bully it’s become. Workers in several states and even foreign countries have gone on strike to protest unsafe conditions in the processing centers. Staff have been seriously injured on the job, and Amazon’s response was to basically pretend it didn’t happen.

Indie authors are struggling with Amazon, too. Recently, the website’s review policy changed, and many reviews were taken down without warning or consent of the people who posted them. Others (trad pub authors as well) have had their Kindle version ebooks hacked, and Amazon didn’t seem to care or be ready to do anything about it.

Customer service for many — writers, readers, and purveyors of other sorts of goods — has either been nonexistent, or so unhelpful it may as well not have occurred. More and more frequently when you turn on the news, there’s another interview with a former employee, a report on another business sector the conglomorate giant is trying to acquire, or statistics of how often we use this company.

And it concerns me. Because here we are in a supposedly civilized, advanced society, that has ethics and laws, and apparently we’re ready to forget all of this with a click of the mouse. Because of the savings. The great bargain. The quick shipping. Heaven’s sake, ordered something from Amazon last month myself.

But, if when we place our order, an employee — a hardworking person with a family to support — is then thrown into a system of tumult and chaos, just to ensure our item is located, packed, and ready to mail in the time it takes a cheetah to chase down its dinner, is it really worth it?

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Plus, aren’t we in a free market? With fair trade regulations? Shouldn’t we relish the fact that we live in countries (appealing to all Westerners, and even non-Westerners, here) where we do have choices? And order from some of these other businesses?

Every time you comparison shop for a book, a DVD, a video game, pet food, running shoes, school supplies, a set of tires, Amazon automatically comes up in the search engine. It’s taken a bit of extra time and energy, but I’ve started deliberately finding alternatives. Barnes & Noble sells books, movies, and CDs. Target and Walmart, CVS and Walgreens sell plenty of household wares and school stuff. You can go to Old Navy.com and find clothing for your whole family at reasonable prices. Overstock.com for that new duvet or shower curtain. Zappos for those Nikes.

And a lot of these companies have reputations as good employers.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but as I see Amazon attempting to build their corporate empire more and more, I can’t help but think: “And one ring to rule them all.”

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Although as a freelance author, I’m an independent contractor, I feel more comfortable having my publications associated with Barnes & Noble. I’m very pleased with Nook Press, they’ve been efficient and helpful, and my books look lovely, and they’re a company I’m proud to be connected to.

I could’ve gone with Amazon for self-publishing. So many folks do. But there was just something about the idea that made me nervous. Very unsettled. And I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts.

Do I fault my fellow indie authors who chose Amazon? No. It’s a big name, it’s well-known, it’s easily accessible. I heard the siren song myself.

For me, though, self-publishing is the culmination of a life-long dream. To have my books in my hand, and be able to show them to other people and say, “I wrote this!” Throughout my youth, I’d walk into bookstores like Barnes & Noble and imagine finding a cover with my name on it.

In an actual, brick-and-mortar bookstore.

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Probably this is one of the things about Amazon that bugs me the most. It’s encouraging a trend towards doing everything online, less and less in person. Going into a B&N, or a Waterstones, picking up the book, sniffing the ink, rubbing the pages… No, it’s not a weird book geek thing. It’s amazing. A part of life no one should be without.

And as a writer, who deeply appreciates the craft and art of creative writing, I honestly feel that this experience is something that should always be available to authors as well.

So, what to do now? I don’t approve of flatout boycotts. I don’t want to call for one, because of all the indie authors I know or know of who use Amazon. Or the staff who like their jobs.

And yet…

And yet, we do have other options.

And some of those other options seem to come without heavy ethical debate.

Do I have concrete answers? Not all the way around.

Do I want people to start thinking about this stuff? Yes. Absolutely yes.

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books, community, Mental Health

It’s Time To Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads

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Yes, you read that title right. This post is a public service announcement about the health of readers.

Now, before I go any further, it needs to be clarified: This is nothing against Goodreads. I love Goodreads. (With a couple of minus exceptions, which I’ll reach soon here.) Please do not think I am slamming the website. I’m a Goodreads author, for the love of Pete. This discussion refers much more to the attitude and mindset many users of the site have adopted — and here’s why we need to change that.

First, let’s list the problems I’m going to address:

One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Okay, time to tackle all of these bit by bit. With nice pictures of cuteness and beauty thrown in to alleviate the pain. Of course. Because it’s me, and I’m kind.

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One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

One of my minor quibbles about Goodreads is the fact the entire world can view your TBR (also known as To Be Read list). (Also known as “These are the books I feel I must finish reading before I die so that I will be assured I lived a whole and fruitful existence.”)

Anyway, the reason add titles to my GR TBR is quite simply so that I won’t forget I came across an interesting-sounding novel. Rather than spending countless hours sitting in front of my open library account, wailing, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT CALLED?!”, I can just check my GR TBR, and within minutes, have placed hold requests for all the books released in the past year that I think I’ll want to read.

Every once in a while, titles are removed from my list, because either I changed my mind (yes, that IS permitted), or I switched the title to another list (like the “Save for later” in my Amazon or Barnes & Noble carts). I like the idea of “divide and conquer” that this tactic provides. It makes me feel that I am accomplishing massive tasks in bite-sized chunks, and that in itself is satisfying.

However, what I don’t care for regarding the TBR feature is the fact anyone who is your friend or follows you on the website can see which books you’ve added. Most people honestly will not take the time to browse their friends’ selections — but, still, I don’t think this feature is beneficial. Whenever I’ve taken a gander, I can concretely say that two things occur: A) I feel like I don’t know these people’s reading tastes very well (which can draw me closer to, or farther from, their page), or B) I am absolutely dumbstruck by how many great books are out there that I haven’t read yet.

The latter actually does present a very valid problem. “Fear of missing out syndrome” is a real psychological thing, which has increased in our collective consciousness in the internet age. We see that 1,849 random strangers are enjoying this new movie, that we have never even heard of, but now immediately need to find a cinema that’s showing it, and attend the first available viewing. If we stay home and watch reruns of The X-Files, we’ll worry that we’ve missed out on some fantastic cultural experience.

Something similar happens for bookworms, bookwyrms, or bookdragons. We begin adding multiple titles to our TBR that we have no genuine interest in reading…but “everybody else” in our sphere of online life is reviewing it, excited about it, or mentioning it approximately 6 times an hour. Hence, we don’t want to “miss out.”

Now, here’s why this is a bad pattern: Taste is subjective. Some people love mystery novels, others sci-fi, others fantasy, others still romance, others still unapologetic erotica, or horror, or political memoirs, or the autobiographies of hedgehogs. It’s why determining what makes “good” and “bad” literature is so difficult — everyone has varying preferences for style, genre, content, and content rating (G, PG, etc.). It’s one of the precious and important marks of a free society — that we’re allowed to write and publish and read pretty much whatever the heck we choose to. And I wholeheartedly support it.

But what has happened to the part of a free society that pushes aside the crowd-think mindset, and encourages individuals to form their own opinions?

Readers, this is what I suggest: STOP adding a particular title to your TBR purely because 1, 4, or 279 people you know did. Wish them well in their literary endeavors, and concentrate on your own. Do NOT feel guilty or ashamed about this decision. Own it. Be proud of it.

And just don’t peruse your internet neighbors’ TBRs. Check out new releases by authors you love, read reviews on titles that catch your interest, be happy if a friend (or 279 of them) agree a certain novel or manga or author’s grocery list sounds amazing. But don’t stare at your computer screen and click the mouse until your eyes go bloodshot, intent on turning your TBR into an exact replica of someone else’s in the community.

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Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

There are many registered users of Goodreads who legit have a TBR of hundreds, even thousands, of titles. To compare, mine usually hovers around 30 to 40. For one thing, this is so that I don’t become overwhelmed. For another, I personally follow the sage advice that 42 is the most complete number of all creation (being the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so that’s my limit for a lot of things I undertake.

But others may feel they can handle greater numbers, even triple digits, when it comes to their reading adventures. To which I say, good for them. Except. Except the lack of practicality enters it. Assuming it takes you about a week to finish reading a book, and there are only so many weeks in a year, and humans are only supposed to live about 75 years, and we don’t even learn to read until we’re about 6…

When would you sleep? Would you actually skip school or call in “sick” to work to tick another box off your reading list? What about vacations, illness, emergencies, times when you’re stranded on a desert island or edge of a volcano without any access to a library? Or attendance at weddings, christenings, funerals, graduations — when it’s just plain rude to have your nose stuck in a book? (No matter how good said book is.)

I’m sure this part of the discussion starts to border on ridiculous, but I am relaying, quite honestly, my concern for my fellow bookdragons. What if (in all seriousness) you died suddenly, and the biggest unfinished portion of your life would appear to be your TBR? Not, like, the fact you were planning to become a scientist who found the cure for cancer.

There are people who joke on Twitter about being crushed to death by their TBRs. The numbers racked up by these individuals could apparently give the national debt a run for its (ha) money. Astronomers who are peering into super-powerful telescopes, hoping to discover the exact spot in the universe where the Big Bang took place, have in fact seen these incredibly tall stacks of books waiting to be read, stretching through people’s roofs, into the stratosphere.

(Okay, yes, I made that last part up. Hopefully.)

And borderline-silly debate aside, while reading is always good, collecting books can grow out of control. We’ve all seen the photos on Instagram of people whose bookcases have taken over their house, and they own dozens of copies they haven’t even opened, and in some cases have flatout forgot why they bought it to begin with. This is nearly an addiction. The act of having plenty of paperbacks, hardcovers, used, new, shiny, pretty, unattractive, worn, mint-condition, loved, hated, hyped to others, in one’s general vicinity giving more of a sense of comfort and excitement than just, you know…reading a book and enjoying it, does not seem healthy.

Again, none of this is Goodreads’ fault. Their system is soooo easy — the “want to read” button is right there underneath every single title. BUT. That does not mean you have to click on it. When GR sends you recommendations, you don’t have to pay attention to them.

What I’m suggesting here is: Develop and exhibit self-control, folks. The world will not end if you limit yourself to reading 10 new books a year. Reading is absolutely fantastic, sharing stories and information that way is something I will never oppose. But so is life, and family, friends, pets, and there’s value in taking 3 weeks and 4 days to reach the last page of a 7-chapter middle-grade novel. We need to stop competing with each other. Reading for pleasure is meant to be just that.

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Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Book blogging came out of nowhere to become a thing less than a decade ago. It is just as rapidly becoming not a thing, as bloggers are vanishing from the internet, either literally disappearing without a trace (are we to assume alien abduction??), or stating they are shutting down their website because of too much stress.

Too much stress? From discussing your favorite books with people?

Yupper. Whereas in the early years, like-minded folks would gather together and happily flail over their shared love of a specific author or genre, nowadays there are way too many vicious trolls around. Individuals who evidently will wither and perish unless they inflict nastiness on ordinary people who simply stated an unpopular opinion.

Here’s what I say to this: The trolls deserve to wither and perish.

We are supposed to be civilized. As civilized human beings, BE NICE. If you vehemently disagree with someone and feel a pressing need to say so, BE POLITE. I’ve had mature and tactful discussions with people who felt I was dead wrong on what I thought of their favorite book or author. I welcome the debate. When there’s no foul language, personal attack, or nearly-illegal threats involved, I’m totally fine with it.

Again, this isn’t at all to be chalked up to Goodreads allowing free and open discourse. (Some users would claim this is true.) I applaud GR for not automatically shutting down dissent. (Remember, folks, democracy, we literally bleed and die to have it.) And everybody has the option to remove offensive comments from their own account, or to block a specific person that just is refusing to learn the Golden Rule.

So that’s how we can take care of ourselves. And we can take care of our friends by supporting an online environment where free thought is permitted to flourish, and where trolls are not. I really hate to see people leaving a website or internet space they previously loved because of a few bad apples — but I hate it even more when those bad apples are rotten to the core. That’s bullying, and it’s just wrong. Period.

So, there are my reasons for everybody to rein in their burgeoning Goodreads addiction. Remember, my fellow bookdragons, read and LOVE it. Read BECAUSE you love it. Use the website as a tool to streamline and make your life easier. Connect with each other. Take care of one another. Stay beautiful.

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books, entertainment, movies, Science fiction

Virtual Unreality

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So, last night we watched Ready Player One. (I attempted to read the book as part of The Great American Read challenge at our local library, and did not get past page 100). While I’d like to think of myself as still “cool” (hopefully people still use that word to describe the state of being, otherwise my entire argument shall be moot), I found the idea of this story very, very difficult to get into.

It had nothing to do with the video gaming or virtual reality aspects, or the 1980s references. I’m a child of the 80s myself, I get most of those references. (See, I’m cool — I’m retro.) But what I struggled with was the very premise — apparently the world has finally gone to hell, the economy has tanked, the country is poverty-stricken…but everybody spends 90% of their time in an online VR world, that is supposedly offered free of charge to get started? To the general public, in a nation that now has no jobs, no GDP, evidently no trade or exports, and civilization nowhere other than…Columbus, Ohio?? Erm, o-kayyyy…

With the book, I had major issues with the narrator, too; I didn’t find him sympathetic or a kid that I could root for. I honestly found him stuck-up and arrogant, and a crude little knucklehead, and wanted him to fail. And the writing style got on my nerves; when a novel begins in a first person deep POV format, but within 10 pages strays to a journalistic-type article — including footnotes! — to explain all the background behind the VR game and why everybody wants a piece of it… Well, my eyes glazed over, and I began losing any hope of this book and I getting along.

However, that aside, I knew the rest of my household was excited about seeing the movie, and I was outvoted in that regard. Plus, last night, I was tired, and grumpy, and didn’t even feel like trying to read. I was in one of those funks, after having had a frustrating week. So, Ready Player One it was.

Now, my quibbles about the (extremely flawed and somewhat unrealistic) premise put on the back burner, the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Purely from a graphics perspective, it is eye candy art in its highest form. And I didn’t even know Simon Pegg was in it; I am utter trash for Pegg’s geek work, so once I discovered that, my mood immediately began to lift. And once you get past all the (unnecessary) info-dumping that’s in the novel, the storyline is decent.

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But I had to keep forcing myself not to focus on the extremely unrealistic aspects of the setting and plot. The story is only set in 2045, which is not so far in the future that it could be entirely unrecognizable to us modern humans. The Oasis, the online server, was, according to this tale, developed and released around 2025. Less than 10 years from now, the chances of the next big tech thing coming out of anywhere other than Silicon Valley or Tokyo is downright laughable.

About 6 months ago, I watched a program on, I think it was the National Geographic channel, or one of their affiliates, about the present and future of Silicon Valley, and the CEOs for Microsoft, etc. that they interviewed announced, firmly and without doubt, that the days of nerds developing revolutionary hardware in their garages is gone. Nowadays, college students who want to become IT engineers are falling all over each other to get to New York and Los Angeles.

The novel was published in 2012, which was after Zuckerberg became one of the youngest billionaires ever by changing our world with Facebook. Microsoft and Sony and gaming companies in Japan are working really hard at making virtual reality as advanced as it was in Ready Player One. But it is expensive, and takes time, and hardworking and well-trained staff. While I’m not ruling out that someone could come up with a way to crack the barrier on their own (as happens in the story), it’s highly, highly unlikely. Also, the notion of it being a socially awkward middle-aged nerd (as the author’s tech genius is) really doesn’t seem plausible.

Since the new generation (teenagers now) have grown up with the internet and technology advancing at a consistent (almost frenetic, to some) pace, I just can’t see, in the year 2025, someone releasing a VR gaming server being utterly shocking and taking over society. The idea behind this modern fiction feels so…flimsy.

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And then there are…the 80s references. I can say with a fair amount of certainty: The 80s are not considered “cool” anymore. I truly cannot envision fashions, music, or movies from that decade coming back into style. The 80s are something that make our kids look at us in confusion or roll their eyes disdainfully. Nobody gets the significance of standing outside somebody’s house holding up a boombox these days; in fact, who even knows what a “boombox” was? And that behavior is no longer viewed as an out-of-the-box way to apologize to your girlfriend; now it’s referred to as stalking.

This is one of those stories where it pays to just sit back and go along with the ride, and not dig too deep under the surface.

But that gets me wrapped in a knot, too — who exactly was the intended audience? I can’t help but wonder if Ernst Cline (the author of the novel) was aiming for an atmosphere of nostalgia, rather than near-future realism. You can’t even classify this tale as dystopia, since we’re not given enough information on the surrounding world, the government, the problems existing outside of where the narrator is immediately located. It’s so concentrated on the Oasis/VR/tech giant conspiracy motif as to be myopic.

I wouldn’t call this great fiction that’s designed to really make you think.

But it made the list of the top 100 books recommended for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime. (According to who? We haven’t figured out yet just how PBS determined what made the list and what didn’t.)

Stuff like that irks me. Sorry, folks.

And then, for all my effort, Simon Pegg was only in 20 minutes’ worth of the film. Oh, well. His performance was sterling (as he so often is).

A big component of the story does revolve around the digital world versus the real world, and I did like that the point was made: The digital world does not necessarily win out, no matter how appealing or enticing it may be. Temporarily escaping all your real life problems online does not make those problems go away; they will still be there when you log off. And the people you meet online might be very nasty in real life. Or they could be awesome — but you might never know if you don’t occasionally shut down the server.

In this age of global connectivity with the press of a button, we need to reshape our views on what makes a friendship, a community, a hobby. The world that we knew even 20 years ago is pretty much consigned to the history books. Whether that’s good or bad in the long run, we have yet to see.

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But since so much of the internet and building connections across the planet could be used for good, let’s start thinking of it that way. Let’s stop being the naysayers of the future, grouching about the fact “things aren’t how they were,” and accept that life is how it is now.

Instead of ruminating over what we’ve “lost,” think about what we could gain — greater understanding of each other, more friends and colleagues and a bigger human family.

And work on maintaining the stuff we really shouldn’t lose — like respect, dignity, trust, decency, and common sense.

The biggest takeaway, I feel, of a film about virtual reality should not be that technology is the enemy. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that technology that could let us down, or build us up.

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books, community

We Need Libraries

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What has happened to the world? Seriously, where are all these discussions about public libraries being “obsolete” and “a waste of money” coming from?! Last week, I saw the link to an opinion piece in newspapers, the thought that “Amazon.com should start running libraries, because it would save the taxpayers a ton of coin.” And my brain just kind of exploded.

EXCUSE ME?! In what universe does this concept make any sense!?? Amazon is first and foremost a business, and it does not put profits above serving the community. No, it doesn’t. While there are businesses that effectively do both, most large corporations would happily throw things like employee satisfaction and “giving back” to the wind in favor of ye old almighty currency. Sad but true.

Libraries, on the other hand, were never intended to be moneymakers. Libraries were meant to be places where knowledge could be shared with the masses, whether rich or poor, native or immigrant, young or old. Turning a high profit is not the goal. And that’s okay, for the love of Pete.

Since we live in a culture that has increased literacy but not financial stability or easy access to all forms of technology across the social classes and geographic areas, libraries are more important now than they were 200 years ago, when a lot less people knew how to read.

In a world that’s rapidly changing some aspects of our lives, libraries remain one of the few public institutions that are working tooth and nail to keep up, and stay relevant.

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And, oh, my, yes, how relevant they are! Libraries still provide safe and free shelter to after-school and college students from the inner city, who need to do their homework without worrying about being in a violent and possibly unstable neighborhood. Libraries provide computer training to older adults who aren’t sure about using these “new-fangled” mechanisms. Libraries employ people in your community, and train young volunteers in marketable skills.

It’s not just about the appeal of lending free books to well-read individuals. It’s about helping families stretch their budgets further, and still getting to expose their kids to a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction, films and music. About encouraging communities to come together to discuss important themes of our day as we find them in literature and arts.

It’s about keeping kids off the streets. Sharing culture and history with citizens of all economic backgrounds. Passing down information from generation to generation.

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Our ancestors took this stuff seriously. There’s a reason The Great Library of Alexandria was considered a nearly sacred building.

When the pursuit of knowledge must be tied into whether or not it makes money, this shows a distinct decline of decency in our society.

No, I am not being too dramatic.

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How can you help? If you’re an author, support your local (or the nearest) library — give them free copies of your own work to circulate, and regularly check items out of their system. Indie authors, especially — do this, and share your friends’ publications this way, too.

If you’re a reader, film enthusiast, or music fan — Before you dash to Amazon.com, Redbox, or Pandora, try the library for those new releases. If you have to put an exceptionally popular item on hold, so what? Learning a little patience is a good thing.

Before you consider attending a low-cost movie night or crafts class at a rec center or town hall, check out your regional library. As budgets have shrunk within many areas of the public sector for such things, libraries have sought grants and funding to increase their offerings.

For example, I live in a town with around 13,000 people — but this summer our library has daily free kids’ programs (including lunch), weekly events for teens (registration only, no cost), board games clubs and painting classes for senior citizens, and family storytimes at least once a week. They’re also handing out prizes all summer long to kids who meet their reading goals. (Muffin already has a coupon for free ice cream and a free restaurant meal.)

And write your Congressperson, your town or city council, smart rich people who know how important this cause is. Don’t give in, or give up.

Libraries MATTER. They are an integral part of civilized society. Without them, rather than advance into a utopian ideal, we would surely backslide towards the Dark Ages.

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books

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

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Hello all! I’ve been tagged by Jameson @ LovelyWhatsoevers to give my take on “The Bibliophile Sweater Tag” — which, yes, equates reading to different types of sweaters. Personally, I love sweaters (although I like the snow I do not like the cold), so this will be fun.

Fuzzy Sweater (a book that is the epitome of comfort)

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This may seem like a slightly odd choice, considering the subject matter (magical killer sea horses), but re-reading this title always feels comfortable. Even the first time I read it, I never felt like the tension turned to actual peril, and I was always confident everyone who needed to survive would (Maggie Stiefvater is really good about not gratitiously killing off her characters), and I knew a satisfying ending was coming. This novel just plain makes me happy.

Striped Sweater (you devoured every line of this book)

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Honestly, sometimes I re-read whole sentences or even entire paragraphs in this early Discworld title, because it is just THAT GOOD. Pratchett was the master of subtle foreshadowing and wry, droll, and spot-on poignant (rather, tearjerking) comments about life and love. After reading it all the way through about 4 times over the past dozen or so years, I still get all choked up at particular scenes.

Ugly Christmas Sweater (book with a weird cover)

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My apologies to anyone who gets scared by this bizarre little creature. This was one I had a really hard time looking at (my ex-husband owned it). I am not a fan of horror, so I never was able to read anything by HP Lovecraft, though for some reason the depictions of Cthulhu don’t scare me (whereas this cover did).

Cashmere Sweater (most expensive book you’ve bought)

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Cheating slightly, because this is the most expensive edition I own, but it was a gift. The art is just astounding, beautiful and graceful, sometimes haunting and quite otherworldly. The stories within are definitely more for adults (not the Disney-ized stuff), but they carry so much Old World charm and just a bit of sadness. Truly captivating.

Hoodie (favorite classic)

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Not a huge fan of classics to start with, but I will always give Dickens a chance. A Tale of Two Cities is positively my favorite; the intense and ultimately beautiful arc of compassion and redemption in spite of human failings and suffering does me in every time.

Cardigan (book you bought on impulse)

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Complete impulse — I was pre-ordering the latest Warriors title for White Fang and saw that Stiefvater’s newest had just been released. I knew it was coming out in 2017, but I was going to wait until my local library had it. However, with one click, that was changed forever…

Turtleneck (book from your childhood)

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Although this was published even before I was born, I read it for the first time around the age of 9 or 10. It’s a great, realistic adventure that ordinary kids find themselves in the middle of, totally by accident, so there are no “chosen one” tropes or too much danger or unnecessarily harrowing moments. It’s appropriate for MG readers in any decade, and the main characters are normal, truly likable kids.

Homemade Knitted Sweater (an indie-published title)

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Since I can’t do my own (but many, many thanks to Jameson for the gorgeous shot of Rulers and Mages on her blog!!!)… Kyle Shultz has created such a fun and engaging series set in an alternate history/universe, full of mythical creatures and magic and a unique twist on fairytales. If you haven’t started reading these novels yet, get going!

V-neck (a book that didn’t meet your expectations)

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I had such high hopes for this one. I wrote a full review on Goodreads and highlighted it in my February mini-reviews. To say it certainly didn’t meet my expectations is an understatement.

Argyle Sweater (book with a unique format)

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Usually I just read text-only books (apart from some MG choices with illustrations, like The Familiars), so The Illuminae Files is definitely one of the most uniquely-formatted titles I’ve encountered.

Polka-dot Sweater (a book with well-rounded characters)

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One of the things that drew me in right away about this series was the characters. They always felt so real — and yes, these are talking cats. Among my favorites in the very early tales are Firestar, Bluestar, Yellowfang, and Spottedleaf.

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